“We don’t have a reputation to uphold, we have a reputation to create.”
That’s what Independence Community College Head Coach Jason Brown said on a local radio show at the beginning of episode four. Unlike the first two seasons of Last Chance U, which focused on JUCO powerhouse East Mississippi Community College, season three takes viewers all the way to Kansas and focuses on a team that hasn’t won its league in 30 years. Heck, it hasn’t even had a winning season in the ten years prior to Brown taking over in Fall 2016.
Season three puts us in the middle of ICC’s unexpected success during the 2017 season; it’s fun getting to watch the team have a winning streak in the middle of the season and seeing the community rally around them. However, it’s just as entertaining seeing how they still have a long way to go and many areas in which they can improve.
“How are we winning? This would be a fucking shit show if we were losing. Winning solves a lot of problems,” Brown says at the end of episode 4, after a tough yet engaging victory against Dodge, a game they really should have lost.
Even though it is a program on the rise, there are a lot of stark contrasts to what we experienced with EMCC. There is no academic advisor; that task falls to Coach Brown who must ensure all his players are on track to graduate. As a result, each assistant coach must make sure his unit of players attends class and makes the grade. They don’t play games in a world-class stadium or practice on well-kept fields. Brown told the cameras they actually built both the coaches’ offices and the weight room since his arrival. Throughout the series, QB Malik Henry points out that his fellow players are undisciplined and the coaches sometimes show a lack of preparation.
You even see a cow interrupt practice in the first episode. Yes, you read that right: a cow.
A lot of what made the Emmy-nominated show so successful in the previous two seasons is still present and visible; the story-telling is as gritty, raw and honest as ever before. The access that Last Chance U’s creative team had to the team for the six-or-so months they followed them is unparalleled to any other docuseries out there. As was the case in the first two seasons at EMCC, most of the key players on this team are top-notch talent who have dropped down from Division I schools, many of them with tragic backstories.
Episode 5 will stand out to viewers, as that’s the episode where you learn about those backstories. We get to know this season’s main characters: Henry, Rakeem Boyd, Bobby Bruce, Kerry Buckmaster, Carlos Thompson, Emmit Gooden and even Coach Brown. While their stories are compelling and heartbreaking, I wish they had been told earlier in the season. That intimate knowledge would have allowed me more time to root for them, as I found it easy to do so once I learned about them and I was having a hard time connecting prior to that. Regardless, the episode was powerful and evoked a lot of emotion, especially going from one story to the next all in the same episode.
People will try to compare Brown with EMCC’s head coach Buddy Stephens, as they both have an unfiltered, intense, and honest approach to coaching, but the two could not be more different. Brown was born and bred in Compton, California, something he never lets his players forget. He also swears almost every other word and loves a good cigar and his Cadillacs (he tries to purchase his 4th in episode 4, but that damn Kansas insurance). And he talked about how he hasn’t seen his daughter in eight years, and how his coaches and players are all the family he has.
There is no doubt Brown is passionate about the kids he works with and wants to see them succeed in life after JUCO football. That drive is one reason why I found him far more compelling than Stephens ever was. We also never really learned Stephens’ background and his path to becoming a coach. Choosing to explore that storyline with Brown added a lot more depth to the entire season.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot recommend this series enough, whether you’re a sports fan or not. There’s a lot of drama, success, personal growth, and reflection which make it so much more than just a football story. At the end of the day, it’s an authentic look at a group of humans, bound together by a common love of football, who are all striving for bigger and better things. It’s beyond worth the 9 hours of your time.
Season three is now available to stream on Netflix.